JOURNAL ARTICLE

Physician-patient communication about over-the-counter medications

B Sleath, R H Rubin, W Campbell, L Gwyther, T Clark
Social Science & Medicine 2001, 53 (3): 357-69
11439819
The purpose of this study was to describe physician-patient communication about over-the-counter medications using a data set comprised of audio-tapes and transcripts of 414 primary care medical visits. The data set was collected during 1995 at the family practice and general medicine clinics at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center. Twenty-seven resident physicians and 414 of their adult patients participated. Fifty-seven percent of patients reported using one or more OTC medications during the past month. Analgesics, cold or allergy products, and antacids were the most commonly used OTC medications. White patients were significantly more likely to have reported using an analgesic in the past month than non-white patients. Female, white, and younger patients were more likely to have reported using a cold or allergy product in the past month than male, non-white, and older patients. Approximately 58% of patients discussed OTC medications with their physicians. Older patients and female patients as well as patients who reported using an antacid in the past month were significantly more likely to have discussed OTC medications with their physicians. Physicians asked questions about OTC medications during only 37% of encounters. Patients asked questions about OTC medications during 11% of encounters. Patient ethnicity did not influence physician or patient question-asking and information-giving about OTC medications. Male physicians were more likely to state information and ask questions about OTC medications than female physicians. Patients were more likely to ask male physicians questions about OTC medications. Physicians were more likely to state OTC information to and ask OTC questions of female and older patients. Physicians were more likely to ask less educated patients questions about OTC medications. Less educated patients were more likely to ask physicians questions about OTC medications. Despite the fact that more than half of all patients reported using OTC medications, physicians asked questions about OTC use during only approximately one-third of encounters. Of patients who reported using an OTC medication in the past month, 58% did not tell their physicians, yet only 14% of patients believed that it was not important for the physician to know about their OTC use. Physician-patient communication about OTC medications should be encouraged so that the patient becomes a collaborative partner in medication management.

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